â€˜If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.â€™
Well, the season is now at its halfway point. Every single team has played at least 19 games, so it's a good time to assess how everyone has done so far. They've been some surprises to say the least.
1. Manchester United : Jose Mourhino predicted that Chelsea would be top of the table by Christmas. Well, not true. This season, Manchester United have played top class football, and are deservedly top of the league. Time will tell if they have the strength in depth to go all the way, but no one even rated them at the beginning of the season. I have a feeling that if they don't go much further in Europe, then they have what they need to win it.
2. Chelsea : The reigning champions. Â¢hâ‚¬L$Â¥, despite all their riches and their 'super squad' have realized that a few injuries have turned their once air tight defense into a sieve. They have been leaking goals, and can only hope John Terry will be back in time. Shevchenko has not yet settled into the team, but let's not forget that while Drogba is scoring goals for fun this season, in his first season he was not playing very well either. But that aside, Chelsea will most likely splash the cash again in January, to plug the gaps. Will they win the title again this year? As far as I'm concerned, they haven't played well this season at all. They need to step up a gear, and hope that Man U slips up a few more times.
3. Arsenal : Everyone except Arsene Wenger thinks Arsenal is out of the title race. He has a young team, and they're doing very well. Henry has been out for a while, and Adebayor has been excellent up front. I think the biggest revelation this season is that Gilberto has raised his game since he got the captain's armband in the absence of Henry. The captain's armband seems to inhibit Henry, he hasn't played well since he was appointed. Maybe Wenger should make Gilberto the permanent captain, and maybe we'll see the best of Henry. I think they'll make a top 4 place at the end of the day.
4. Bolton : This team has been getting better and better each season. From regular relegation battles, they are now looking at a regular European placed finish. Nicolas Anelka has finally settled into the team, and is scoring goals. Kevin Nolan is an excellent captain, and with characters like Gary Speed in the team, they have an excellent blend of youth and experience, while at the same time, they have a very cosmopolitan look to their team. Kudos must go to Sam Allardyce, he's building something special up there, and things can only get better.
5. Portsmouth : The surprise package of the season for sure. Last season, they escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth. A few new signings, and all of a sudden, they're winning matches, scoring goals, and closer to the top than the bottom. David James, Sol Campbell and Kanu Nwankwo have all been reinvigorated by whatever Harry Redknapp is putting in the water over there. Redknapp has proved himself once again, but a few injured may show how weak the team is in depth.
6. Liverpool : My team. At the beginning of the season, several pundits thought that this would be the team to push Chelsea. Several new signings, and we were all believing that this would be the season. So what's gone wrong? Well, the defense has been shaky at times, but recently they've shored things up again. At the beginning of the season, they couldn't win an away game, in fact, they couldn't score goals away from home !! Jermaine Pennant hasn't shown us his best, and arguably, Craig Bellamy as well. Steve Gerrard is still not back to his best after the World Cup, but sadly, the title is out of reach now. Hopefully, they'll be able to make a push for Champions League football, and try again next season. There's also the subject of the takeover, which could inject millions into the clubs transfer budget.
7. Tottenham : After last season's 5th place finish, the spurs have not been able to find their form this season. Things are picking up again though, and I'm very happy that Jermaine Defoe is scoring goals again. Berbatov has formed a good partnership with him up front. Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon are two young players in this team that I reckon will make it all the way to the top.
8. Everton : David Moyes' team has not been at their best, but they are still in a good position. Andy Johnson has shown that he is indeed of premiership calibre, and has settled well into the team. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta have been the engine room of the team, but will they manage to qualify for Europe again? Maybe. They have a young Nigerian striker called Victor Anichebe who is destined for great things, he played against Chelsea a few weeks ago and had a good game.
9. Reading : Many predicted that they would struggle. But here they are in the top half of the table, and Kevin Doyle rubbing shoulders with Drogba, Kanu and Ronaldo in the top scorers chart. Steve Coppel has proved that he is an excellent manager, and they've managed to hold their ground and pull off a few wins here and there. As long as they pick up a few more points, relegation shouldn't be an issue, at least not this season.
10. Aston Villa : Last season was a battle for survival. Enter Martin O'Neil and the tables have turned dramatically. With basically the same set of players, the Villa managed to stay unbeaten till the 28th of October. Gabriel Agbonlahor have been a revelation this season. Then again, he has Nigerian blood in him, and it seems that the Nigerian players have all been on fire this season.
11. Newcastle: Injuries have meant that Newcastle struggled at the beginning of the season, but since Kieron Dyer came back, they've been winning matches. Oh, and there's the small matter of Nigerian wonderkid Obafemi Martins scoring goals every week. Did I mention that all the Nigerians have been on fire? It will be interesting to see Martins play upfront with Owen, when he returns. Two short strikers? Mmmmm.
12. Fulham : Chris Colemam has done well enough with the squad that he has. They are essentially a mid table team now, and should be floating in this region come the end of the season. Injuries to Bullard, Knight and Boa Morte have stretched the team to the limit, hopefully, they will do enough to survive. Again.
13. Manchester City : Stuart Pearce is a man who understands the fickleness of football. Last season, some people were clamoring for him to take the England job on the back of a few good results. Then, at the start of the season, he was supposedly under pressure, until his daughter gave him a toy horse as a good luck charm. Micah Richards has caught the attention of the England Manager, Joey Barton has been a dynamo in the middle, but I don't think this team will set the league on fire, not just yet.
14. Wigan : Last season's highflyers. The team is very different to the one that shook the league last season, but Paul Jewell should be able to keep them in the premiership for another year. Leighton Baines has caught the attention of several top clubs, and if he's still at Wigan at the end of the transfer window, Paul Jewell can hopefully gear up his boys for a push up the table to midtable glory.
15. Blackburn : Now who would have thought Blackburn would be down here, a bit too close to the relegation battle? After a 6th placed finish last season, Blackburn has not done too well this season, but without doubt, they have a strong team and a good manager. The team might look like they're too good to go down, but never forget West Ham in 2002/2003, who went down even though they had the 6th highest wage bill in the league.
16. Middlesbrough : Gareth Southgate struck a cheap shot when he blamed Steve Mclaren for his teams problems this season. In my onion, that is a load of CRAP. The team isn't that good, and the manager needs to step up his game. Will the club regret putting their faith in untried Southgate. We shall see.
17. Sheffield Utd : They were always expected to struggle, but and they're down here in the fight to stay in the top flight. Their manager is a real character, who on his day, makes Mourhino look shy. It's going to be a tough job for them to stay in, but a Â£5million war chest for the January transfer window will be appreciated by the manager, who 'bleeds red and white.'.
18. West Ham : Last season was always going be difficult to live up to. West Ham should not have sacked Alan Pardew, but Alan Curbishley is a top manager, and should be able to get them out of this mess. Tevez and Mascherano's transfers are still shrouded in controversy, and everyone feels that it is their presence that is disrupting team spirit, but let's see how Curbishley handles it.
19. Charlton : 15 years with one manager, and then all of a sudden, 3 in one season. Charlton are going through managers like Christmas crackers, they have a rubbish team to boot. They're going down.
20. Watford : Aidan Boothroyd is my favourite manager in the premiership at the moment. The man is confidence personified, and is full of self belief, and his players absorb his energy and go out there and give him a good game. They're played well, but the results have not come. They are clearly punching above their weight, and it will be sad to see them go down.
P.S. Congratulations to Stevie Gerrard, who has been awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours list.